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January 23, 2022
EDITORIAL

China and the crisis of Ukraine (III)

The opinion of British expert Lindley French is not the only opinion registered recently regarding the relation Russia-China in the West. General Martin Dempsey, president of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, developed in a recent interview (May 12) his own construct “Two, Two, Two, and One” which defines the present world order. According to this geopolitical construct, US must face the challenges of “two heavyweights” (Russia and China), “two middleweights” (Iran and North Korea), “two networks” (al-Quaeda and its allies) and “one” new domain which is the cyberspace.
As regards Russia and China, the “two heavyweights” at the top of planners’ list at Pentagon, General Dempsey affirms that the relations with these big powers are not destined to inevitably end in conflict, on the contrary.

But “Russia’s actions in Ukraine are troubling precisely because they are disrupting the international order we ascribe to, which holds that national boundaries and borders are decided through an internal electoral process and not from the outside”. So, if we were to consider the present stage of relations between China and Russia from the perspective of the construct devised by the chief of Pentagon, then Beijing and Moscow develop their own comprehensive strategic partnership as an alliance meant to amplify the trend toward a multipolar world. Of interest are also Dempsey’s considerations about discouraging each component: “deterrence has a somewhat different meaning in each case. With the two heavyweights Russia and China, that’s clear state-on-state deterrence. With the middleweights like Iran and North Korea, deterrence takes on a different role/…/ And when you’re talking about networks like al-Qaeda and its affiliates, I’m not sure you can deter a network – I think you just have to defeat it.”
The systemic changes that came in rapid series during this first half of 2014 also imposed reconsidering the positions of some experts. American John Mearsheimer, a well-known expert, author of many books such as “The Tragedy of Great Powers,” took in consideration these changes. In a new edition of the aforementioned book, published in April 2014, he updated the final chapter that focuses on the answer to the question on whether China can develop peacefully, in other words if the present exponential economic growth of China can lead to a hegemonic war. The expert affirms that, after 1989, USA was the only systemic superpower, without rival, so for two decades it could wage wars (Iraq-1991, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq-2003-2011 , Lybia-2011), also against a global terrorist networks (after 2001) without fearing a conflict with a great power. China’s exponential growth for the last two decades changed the situation today and has the potential to transform the systemic architecture. If this growth of China will continue, the next decades USA will be faced with a strategic competitor. Mearsheimer recently wrote: “My argument in a nutshell is that if China continues to grow economically, it will attempt to dominate Asia the way the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere. The United States, however, will go to enormous lengths to prevent China from achieving regional hegemony. Most of Beijing’s neighbours, including India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Russia, and Vietnam, will join with the United States to contain Chinese power. The result will be an intense security competition with considerable potential for war. In short, China’s rise is unlikely to be tranquil.”
On the other hand, the actual position of Russian experts in the field is obviously in a different tonality. For F. Lukianov, editor of the influential international politics magazine “Russia in Global Affairs”, the Ukrainian crisis brought changes in the bilateral relation Russia-USA. He affirms that Russia will want to continue the collaboration with the USA on other dossiers, but Washington switched to a policy of “containment” regarding Russia, giving with as arguments in this respect the dispatching of military forces in Eastern Europe, especially of military ships in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In the present conditions – Lukianov says – even if Russia wants to continue the collaboration and localise the Ukrainian conflict, these things prove to be difficult and Russia’s move to systemic resistance has not occurred yet. But he mentions a very important fact in this context, which is that the Chinese factor becomes decisive in the relations between Washington and Moscow. China’s growth might determine USA to “move closer to Russia,” although tension could still exist between the two capitals. In this perspective, the fabulous contract signed by Putin and Xi last week has a particular geopolitical significance, which is that the USA will have to take into consideration both powers when they will assume global initiatives in relation to each of them. At least this is what seems to be the position of Moscow in the present circumstances and the USA will have to divided their geopolitical attention equally between Asia and Europe. This would also explain the fact that, at the peak of the Ukrainian crisis, starting with 23 April 2014, President Obama toured four Asian states worried by China’s assertiveness, as well as the lack of a reaction from Washington to the events of Kiev and the annexation of Crimea. During his first stop in Japan, President Obama assured his hosts, which are in a contentious with China, regarding the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands of the East China Sea, of the solidity of the reciprocal strategic ties. Lukianov concludes that, given the common interest of Russia and USA, tensions will exist between the two powers, but they will not have the features of a new cold war.
On the other hand, other Russian experts evaluate that China already moved to another paradigm of foreign policy. In an analysis of China’s present foreign policy, Vitali Vorobiov affirms: “It seems China is about to adjust its foreign policy paradigm dating back to the Xiaoping era, a model /…/over the past three decades. Generally, the previous paradigm can be presented as a combination of several principles: independence and self-reliance, an emphasis on creating domestic potential in combination with a policy of greater openness, and selective foreign activity.” The new paradigm of Beijing’s foreign policy, according to the reputed Russian expert, has as essential components “independence and self-reliance; accumulation of domestic potential in combination with expanding the set of market instruments; deep involvement in world economic exchanges; and a steady build-up in foreign activity.” The difference from the old paradigm of Deng is that independence and self-reliance acquire a major geopolitical importance that “implied China’s self-assertion as a significant regional power” and equally “the build-up of foreign activity is aimed at turning China into a major player with strategic interests of a global scale.”
This paradigm is well understood in Moscow, which is in a process of identifying its own place as global power pole in the new international order, and Russians experts show that the justification of Russia’s actions in the Ukrainian crisis. The identity of grand strategy scope could thus explain, in the Russian pertinent literature, why the contract of the century between Russia and China was concluded on 21 May, after 10 years of negotiations, and why this has a major geopolitical signification. It rests to be understood that, as explained in the article of another Russian expert ( G. Mirzaian), under the title “The price of eastern orientation,” that “one must not overrate the accord with China, because Europe – all in all – was and will be the biggest traditional partner of Russia.”
The Ukrainian crisis developed through the ‘moves’ initiated by the major actors of the system – USA, Russia, EU, China – an already known fact, which gained a wide traction in the international arena: the system is undergoing a period of accelerated redrawing.

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